Moana Review

Disney's newest animated feature Moana hit theaters over Thanksgiving and I was able to check it out to give you lovely readers a first hand review of it. So let's dive right in.

Moana is about a soon to be chief (not a princess as she says) girl named Moana (played by Auli'i Cravalho) who's island is suffering from a force that is killing it's plants and driving away it's fish. Her father, the chief, refuses to venture past the reef and is insistent that there is nothing out there that could help them.

Moana's grandmother tells her a tale about the heart of the sea that was stolen by demi-God Maui (played by Dwayne The Rock Johnson) who Moana must find and force to return the heart of the sea if all is to be restored in the world and their people can again flourish.

A big selling point that Disney has been leaning on is the casting of actual Samoans to play the Samoan people in the film as well as their learning and understanding of Samoan culture and it's stories and history. It's a nice touch that not only helps with the somewhat ongoing issue of diversity in the world of animation, but also helps to make a world that feels full and rich. It's not doing as much "cultural appropriation" as their previous films like Mulan or Pocahontas, this one feels much more like it's telling the Samoan story in the way it was meant to be told.

Another element that I really, REALLY, enjoyed was that there was no love interest.

Moana doesn't have a prince she's pining after or a man she needs in her life. It's nice and refreshing to see a movie with a strong female character who is driven by an emotion other than love. There's nothing wrong with those emotions, it just gets a little repetitive when every female protagonist is looking for love.

Moana and Maui's relationship was really nice as well, it was a platonic friendship that both learned from each other and it really didn't feel like Maui had to "save" Moana, but that they had to work together to accomplish their goal. Great and refreshing characters for a Disney movie.

All that being said what did I think of the movie? It left me a little bit wanting if I'm being honest. Visually it's very pretty, and the water animation is phenomenal, but story wise it felt a little bit weak to me. Maybe I'm an old jaded animator, but nothing happened in it that really took me by surprise.

While the story concept I like a lot it was the execution that felt a little bland to me. Moana and Maui have to travel across the ocean and fight two monsters before finally reaching their final goal, which is surrounded by a lava monster who has been the one destroying the world.

The monster designs were great, and the crab monster (voiced by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords) segment was beautifully stylized and he had my favorite song with his number "Shiny." Those little coconut monsters are adorable also they're going to sell lots of little stuffed animal versions of them.

It just felt like nothing had enough weight to it, when they meet these two monsters on their way it doesn't feel like big moments they have to overcome.

It felt very similar to all the other segments of Moana learning how to navigate the ocean. Once they arrive at the final lava monster as well it doesn't feel like this big climax of their adventure, and more of just "another monster" to beat.

I think the biggest problem I had with it is it doesn't have a real protagonist for Moana and Maui to be up against. During the movie I kept thinking back to Hercules where he fights the hydra. That moment has some real weight to it where it gets more and more intense as Hercules fights the hydra and it keeps multiplying its heads, before we finally get the moment of "did he do it?" where Hercules looks like he might have been defeated by the monster.

Not to go too far into how I would have written the movie vs how they did write it, but I feel like if maybe the lava monster was a bigger antagonist to Moana and Maui the story could have had more ups and downs as we went on this journey together.

Disney also is so good at doing bad guys where they are very fleshed out and three dimensional characters that I missed having that in this one, we didn't get a fun Disney villain song!

That being said, I do think it's a nice movie. The voice acting was great, and I was really impressed with how well The Rock sang his song, that was another high point for me. It just fell a little flat as far as moments that got me worked up, I'm pretty easy to make teary and Disney usually does it with such ability that I was kind of surprised this movie didn't have any of those moments.

When compared to Frozen, which was a clever take on the more typical fairy tale type stories Disney does, as well as Zootopia, which was an amazing movie let alone an amazing Disney movie, I feel like Moana played it a little bit safe. It felt very like a 3 act structure and your typical kind of kids adventure movie, with comic relief and obstacles to overcome and a happy ending (spoiler alert although you already knew it would have that).

So Moana is worth seeing? If you have kids, definitely, it's a fun movie that'll keep everyone entertained and has a nice message as well as characters that portray positive messages for both little boys and girls. Will Moana leave you with a feeling of awe like Zootopia or The Lego Movie? I don't think so.